If you saw something you couldn’t really explain in the sky near Harrison Ferry Mountain recently and decided it might be best to just keep it to yourself, you can go ahead and tell your friends about it now.
What you probably saw was Bryan Miller flying the friendly skies on a powered paraglider, or PPG. A PPG is also known as paramotor.
“I spend the majority of my time at less than 500 feet,” Miller said. “Flying low is actually more fun than flying high.”
Miller may normally fly at lower altitudes, but he recently soared his PPG to a much higher elevation.
“My previous personal record was 8,000 feet and I’ve been wanting to do 10,000 feet for a long time,” said Miller. “Conditions were perfect that morning so I just went for it. I should’ve dressed warmer,” he chuckled.
Miller said he was able to verify his altitude with the GPS on his phone.
“I’d launched from the old golf course that morning and the wind was blowing me back toward Isha. I was texting my wife from up there telling her not to leave the house because I was afraid I was going to run out of fuel,” said Miller. “I thought she might have to come get me.”
“Most paramotors have an 11-liter tank, which is enough for about a two-and-a-half hour flight,” Miller said. “My particular rig holds about 8 liters and I don’t usually fly much more than an hour. By then I’m tired, or cold, or I have to pee,” he laughed.
Bryan and his wife, Melinda, moved to McMinnville from Dallas about a year ago.
“A friend of mine in Texas flew to 17,000 feet a few weeks ago,” Miller said. “The maximum legal altitude is 18,000 feet.”
Miller’s PPG is powered by a motor that puts out about 26 horsepower. “It’s similar to what you might find on a dirt bike,” said Miller. “It runs on plain old ethanol-free gasoline. It’s a two-stroke motor so I do have to mix it with high-quality oil.”
Although it looks like he’s flying a parachute, Miller says it’s actually an inflatable wing. “We call it a wing or a glider,” he said. “My wing is 22 square meters. I do carry a reserve parachute because my wife makes me.”
Miller has been flying his PPG for nearly three years and has logged nearly 300 hours of airtime.
“I had some issues with my motor when I first got it. It would cut out after running for about 20 minutes. That resulted in several unplanned landings,” said Miller. “Fortunately, in each case I had a good place to land and it was not a big deal. I fixed the problem with help from the dealer and it has run very well since then.”
Miller said the scariest thing that’s happened to him while flying was a result of poor judgment on his part and poor flying conditions on Mother Nature’s part.
“Shortly after I started flying paramotors, I launched in conditions that were way too rough for my level of experience,” he explained. “I was pretty sure I was going to end up in a smoking crater but I landed safely.”
“Pilots have a saying. It’s better to be down here wishing you were up there than up there and wishing you were down here,” said Miller. “That was definitely a wishing-I-was-down-here day.”
Since paramotors are able to glide, it’s not necessarily catastrophic if the engine should fail while in flight.
“You’re supposed to always fly with an out, a safe place to land if the engine does die. It’s not always practical to do this but we make an effort,” Miller explained. “If the engine does die, you won’t drop like a rock. You’ll glide normally to the ground.”
“Fun fact,” Miller said. “The No. 1 cause of death for paramotor pilots is drowning.”
Miller flew single-engine Cessnas for years but hasn’t flown a plane since he started flying a PPG.
“PPG is so much more fun! The scenery, the freedom to explore, and the sheer exhilaration of flight. Every aspect of the sport is just amazing,” Miller said.
Miller isn’t required to register his paramotor with the FAA. “Paramotors are considered ultralight aircraft by the FAA. We are very fortunate the FAA has relatively few regulations governing ultralights,” said Miller.
PPG operators don’t need a license to fly but Miller warns would-be flyers to get properly trained before taking flight.
“Flying paramotors is not especially difficult, but it can kill you,” Miller cautioned. “Seriously, don’t even think about doing this without good training. Training may be expensive but you’ll save much more than that by avoiding broken gear and broken bones.”
Miller does most of his flying in the valley between Harrison Ferry Mountain and McMinnville.
“My friend Lucas Foutch has a beautiful field behind his house in the Fairview community and it’s my go-to launch spot. I have a few other launch sites but his is my favorite,” Miller said. “The effort it takes to launch depends on the wind. With lots of wind you can launch almost without taking a step. With little or no wind you have to run-run-run. I can usually get off the ground in something like 50 feet,” Miller added.
“PPG flyers like smooth air so we normally fly early in the morning,” Miller said. “Sunrise above the clouds. It’s always breathtaking.”